The Ark, the Kapporet, and the Keruvim (Part V)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy

 

Mikdash

Rav Yitzchak Levi

 

Lecture 139: the Ark, the kaporet and the Keruvim – (Part v)

 

 

INtroduction

 

            Thus far, we have dealt with the relationship between the ark and the kaporet, and we have seen various opinions on the matter. To complete the discussion, I wish to bring R. Shlomo Fisher's comments on the issue:[1]

 

In Parashat Teruma (25:21) it says: "And you shall put the kaporet above, upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you." On this, Rashi writes: "I do not know why this was repeated, for it already says (v. 16): 'And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you.'" See there his forced answer. The truth is that it is further strange that Scripture turned the secondary matter into the primary matter, and the primary matter into the secondary matter, for the tablets are the primary matter and the kaporet is secondary. Why then does it start with the kaporet as if it were primary: "And you shall put the kaporet above, etc.," and conclude with the tablets as if they were secondary: "And in the ark you shall put the Testimony, etc." Surely this is strange. In similar fashion, there is room to question that which is written below (26:33): "And you shall bring in there within the parokhet the ark of the Testimony; and the parokhet shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy. And you shall put the kaporet upon the ark of the Testimony in the most holy place." Now since the kaporet is placed upon the ark of the Testimony, and it was already stated that the ark shall be in the Holy of Holies, it is then obvious that the kaporet shall also be in the Holy of Holies. Why then the special emphasis that the kaporet shall be in the most holy place?

What seems correct regarding this matter: Regarding the verse (25:10): "And you shall make an ark of shittim wood," Rashi brings the words of the gemara (Yoma 72b): Betzalel made three arks, two of gold and one of wood. This is strange: If they already made an ark of gold on the outside and an ark of gold on the inside, why do I need an ark of wood in the middle? The Tosafot answer: So that it not be excessively heavy for those bearing it. This is forced, for even now it is exceedingly heavy. This is what the Ibn Ezra says: "It is written that there were three arks. One must wonder about the weight." It seems that we can give a correct explanation of the matter.

For the Gemara in Sukka 5a states: "As for all the vessels which Moshe made, the Torah gave the measurements of their length and breadth and height, [while in the case of] the kaporet, its length and its breadth are given, but not its height. Proceed, therefore, to deduce it from the smallest of the vessels… We deduce [the measurements of a] vessel from another vessel, but we do not deduce [the measurements of a] vessel from an ornament." Now this would seem to be strange, for the kaporet was also an ornament, for it served only as a cover for the ark. And even the keruvim on the kaporet, according to their simple sense, are but an ornament, for they symbolize an honor guard for the ark in which rest the tablets of the Testimony. As the verse states (35:20): "And the keruvim shall stretch out their wings on high, overspreading the kaporet with their wings." That is, the tablets of the Testimony are the holiest and most elevated thing that Israel has, as they were written with the finger of God, and therefore there must be great dread in watching over them. (See the Chinukh, precept no. 96, not to remove the poles of the ark from the rings. Included among the roots of the mitzva: Since the ark was the habitation of the Torah, which is all of our essence and our honor… for perhaps we shall have to quickly go out somewhere with the ark. See there. This can be formulated in a slightly different manner, that there should be great dread in watching over it, and therefore the poles must be ready, that if God forbid there be some danger, they can immediately rescue it without delay.) Come and see what great dread there was when the ark was taken captive in the days of Eli (this is the matter of the "keruvim" which were guards, as it says in Parashat Bereishit (3:23): "And He placed the keruvim at the east of the garden of Eden… to guard"). It turns out then that the kaporet with the keruvim are but an ornament for the ark of the Testimony. Why then is the kaporet called a vessel?

 

            R. Fisher's underlying assumption is that the tablets were primary and the kaporet was only secondary, and this leads him to the note that the Torah seems to turn the primary matter into the secondary matter and the secondary matter into the primary matter. He further questions why was it necessary for the Torah to emphasize in Shemot 26:33 that the kaporet shall be in the Holy of Holies, and further asks regarding the gemara in Sukka, according to which the Torah does not specify the height of the kaporet, but this is rather derived from the smallest of the vessels (i.e., the border of the table jutted out a handbreadth, and the kaporet was also a handbreadth high).

 

            R. Fisher continues to ask from the general principle that we may deduce the measurements of a vessel from another vessel, but we may not deduce the measurements of a vessel from an ornament. It would seem that the kaporet itself is an ornament, as it serves as a cover for the ark. Even the keruvim are a kind of ornament, as they serve as an honor guard for the ark. Since the tablets are the holiest and most elevated objects, they require special guarding, and so the keruvim serve as an ornament for the ark of the Testimony. Why, then, is the kaporet called a vessel?

 

            R. Fisher continues:

 

But the truth is that there are two aspects. For in addition to the plain aspect that was mentioned above, that the ark is the primary matter and the kaporet and the keruvim serve the ark, there is also the opposite aspect, according to which the kaporet and the keruvim are primary, while the ark and the tablets serve the kaporet. This is explicitly stated in the Torah (25:22): "And I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim," and it is written (v. 20): "And their faces shall look one to another." And the Rashbam explains (Bava Batra 99b) that this is like the love between a man and a woman who love each other, a sign that the Holy One, blessed be He, loves Israel. And the gemara in Yoma (54a) states: "See your love before God." Only that the prophecy and cleaving between the two keruvim only take place by way of the tablets of the Testimony in the ark. But in the end, from this perspective, the ark and the tablets inside it are regarded as serving the kaporet and the keruvim. This may be likened to the Urim and Tumim, for it is written (28:30): "And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Tumim." And Rashi explains: "This was an inscription of the Proper Name of God which was placed between the folds of the breast plate through which it made its statements clear and its promises true. In the Second Temple, there was certainly the breastplate, for it was impossible that the High Priest should have lacked a garment, but the Divine Name was not within it. It was on account of the inscription which constituted the Urim and Tumim that it was called ‘judgment,’ as it is said (Bamidbar 27:21): ‘And he shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim.' Now the Proper Name is certainly immeasurably holier and more elevated than the stones of the breastplate, but if we come to ask what here is the primary end, certainly the end is the stones through which enquiry is made. Know that this is true, for we don't say that the breastplate was made for the sake of the Proper Name, but rather we say that the Proper Name was made for the sake of the breastplate. (See Avoda Zara 3:4: "Nobody says: The bath was made [as an adornment for Aphrodite, etc.]." As we brought above the analogy of the king and the people. The king is certainly immeasurably more important and elevated than the people, and all are obligated to honor and fear Him. But we don't say that the people were formed for the sake of the king, but rather we say that the king was made for the sake of the people.

 

            Thus, R. Fisher continues to demonstrate the reverse side, according to which the kaporet is the primary matter, and the ark with the tablets serve the kaporet. He bases this on the words: "From above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim," and from the fact that "their faces shall look one to another."

 

            Even though the prophecy and the cleaving between the two keruvim take place by way of the ark of the Testimony, the ark with the tablets are seen as serving the kaporet. R. Fisher compares this to the relationship between the Urim and Tumim and the breastplate. Even though the Proper Name, the Urim and Tumim are immeasurably holier and more elevated than the stones of the breastplate, the end consists of the stones through which the enquiry is made and the Proper Name is made for the sake of the breastplate.

 

            R. Fisher continues:

 

This is what the Ramban says at the beginning of Parashat Teruma: "The mystery of the Mishkan is that the glory that rested on Mount Sinai should rest upon it in a concealed way. For the God of Israel sits upon the keruvim (II Melakhim 39:15), as it says (Yechezkel 10:19-20): 'And the glory of the God of Israel was over them above… and I knew that they were keruvim.' And it is written about the ark (II Shemuel 6:2): 'To bring up from there the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who dwells upon the keruvim.' For God sits upon the keruvim. And in verse 21: 'And you shall put the kaporet' with the keruvim, so that I should have a throne of glory. For I will meet with you there and I will rest My Shekhina upon them. And I will speak with you from above the kaporet, from between the two keruvim, since it is above the ark of the Testimony. Now this is like the chariot envisioned by Yechezkel. For they are the heavenly throne, and they overspread the testimony which is the writing of God."

Now in order that people should understand that in addition to the revealed aspect that the ark is primary and the kaporet is an adornment that serves it, there is also the opposite aspect, according to which the kaporet and the keruvim are primary and the ark with the tablets in it are an adornment and serve the keruvim, for through the ark and the tablets the Shekhina rests upon the keruvim – God commanded that three arks be made: an ark of gold on the outside, upon which the kaporet does not rest, for it projected and rose up above the kaporet, like a golden rim around it, and the kaporet rested on the middle ark that was made of wood. Now a person who sees before him a wooden ark and above it a gold cover understands that nobody makes a gold cover for a wooden box. Rather, what we have here is certainly some gold object which stands on a wooden base. And they will come to understand that there is an aspect here according to which the kaporet is primary and the ark and the tablets, with all their holiness, serve the kaporet.

 

            R. Fisher demonstrates in the words of the Ramban, and proves from the verses, that the keruvim are a throne of glory similar to the chariot which Yechezkel saw. They are the seat of the Most High and they overspread the Testimony, which is the writing of God. He asserts that on the manifest level, the ark is primary and the kaporet and the keruvim serve it, but there is also an additional aspect, according to which the ark and the tablets allow God to reveal Himself from between the two keruvim.

 

            R. Fisher brings an interesting proof from the fact that of the three arks mentioned in the gemara in Yoma, the kaporet did not rest upon the outer golden ark (as this projected out above the kaporet as a rim), but rather upon the wooden ark. The fact that the gold kaporet rested on a box of wood emphasizes the great importance of the kaporet in comparison to the ark.

 

            R. Fisher continues:

 

Now we can answer Rashi's question about the redundancy, and so too our question about Scripture's wording making the kaporet the primary matter and the Testimony secondary. For in truth, at the beginning of the parasha, Scripture makes the Testimony the primary matter, writing: "And you shall put into the ark the Testimony which I shall give you." But now Scripture comes to emphasize the additional aspect of the ark and the kaporet, according to which the kaporet is primary and the ark is an adornment. Therefore, it says again: "And you shall put the kaporet above, upon the ark; and in the ark you shall put the Testimony that I shall give you." This also explains the special emphasis on the placing of the kaporet in the Holy of Holies.

 

            These words provide another answer to the question with which we have already dealt at length: why is the placement of the Testimony described twice? According to this explanation, repeating the placement of the Testimony comes to clarify that in addition to the aspect according to which the ark and the tablets are primary and with which Scripture opened, there is another aspect according to which the kaporet is primary and the ark serves as an adornment for the keruvim.

 

            This, of course, also explains Scripture's emphasizing that the kaporet is put into the Holy of Holies, as something of independent importance owing to the elevated status of the kaporet.

 

            R. Fisher continues:

Now in our essay on Shabbat and the Mishkan, we wrote as follows: The Ibn Ezra in Parashat Teruma (25:22) writes the following: “It may be asked why there is no mention of the incense altar. And the answer is that the glory will not depart, and therefore the ark is in the shape of a throne, and here is the candlestick and a set table. Therefore there is no mention of the incense altar." This means to allude to what is stated regarding Elisha (II Melakhim 4:10): "Let us make a little upper chamber, I pray you, with walls; and let us set there a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp." That is to say, because these four vessels are the private furniture of a person in his house, and the Mishkan is, as it were, God's private dwelling place, and it has an ark, in place of a chair, and a candlestick and a table. This stands in contrast to the incense altar, which does not belong to this system. Therefore, to emphasize the connection between these vessels, the Torah sets apart the matter of the command regarding the altar and writes about it somewhere else.

 

            In his explanation of the structure of the Mishkan and its vessels, the Ibn Ezra refers us to what is said about Elisha (II Melakhim 4:10): "Let us make a little upper chamber, I pray you, with walls; and let us set for there a bed, and a table, and a chair, and a lamp." These four vessels, a person's personal furniture – bed, table, chair and lamp – serve as a model for a private home. Since in a certain sense the Mishkan serves as God's private residence, it is therefore modeled after ordinary private residences and so it contains these vessels.

 

            In contrast, the incense altar is not mentioned at all in Parashat Teruma and it is added to the command regarding the Mishkan only at the end of Parashat Tetzaveh.

 

            R. Fisher adds:

 

See Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chayyim ha-Levi, Hilkhot Yom ha-Kippurim, who says: It seems that the Rambam's view is that the law governing the Heikhal itself is divided. The sprinklings on the parokhet are treated like inside [the Holy of Holies], whereas the sprinklings on the altar itself are treated like outside. The Chazon Ish in his Gilyonot asks: How can one put forward such a novel idea without a source? But we have found a source for this in the words of the Ibn Ezra, that the part of the Heikhal in which the candlestick and the table stand belong to the Holy of Holies, for these three vessels – the ark, the candlestick and the table – constitute a single system. This does not contradict what is written (26:33): "And the parokhet shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy," as this is only from the perspective from the outside to the inside, that one may enter until the parokhet. But this is not the case from the perspective from the inside to the outside, according to which the Holy of Holies extends past the parokhet until after the candlestick and the table. This accords well with the wording: "And the parokhet shall be for you as a division between the holy place and the most holy" – for you, but not for Him. Consider this carefully.

 

            Based on his analysis of the words of R. Chayyim on the Rambam, R. Fisher makes a distinction regarding the law governing the Heikhal, and he argues that the sprinklings on the parokhet are treated like inside and the sprinklings on the altar itself are like outside. He seeks a source for this novel approach, and finds it in the words of the Ibn Ezra. He argues that the part of the Heikhal in which the table and the candlestick stand belongs essentially to the Holy of Holies, and that the table, the candlestick and the ark constitute a single system.

 

            This understanding is correct from the perspective of the Holy of Holies going outwards toward the Holy, but from the perspective of the Holy going inwards, the parokhet divides between the Holy and the Holy of Holies.

 

            We dealt with the issue of the boundary between the Holy and the Holy of Holies in last year's shiurim.

 

            This issue is in large measure connected to the essence of the Heikhal. Does it express the resting of the Shekhina, the service of man, or the encounter between the Divine presence and human action, or, as has been suggested based on the words of Rabbeinu Chayyim ha-Levi and the Ibn Ezra, there is a geographical division in the Heikhal itself: the western portion in which stand the table and the candlestick belongs to the resting of the Shekhina and the Holy of Holies, whereas the eastern part which contains the incense altar belongs to human action.[2]

 

            R. Fisher adds in his notes that there are three bars that hold together the boards of the Mishkan: the upper and lower bars are made of two pieces and they each extend across half of the wall, and the middle bar is made of one piece and extends across the entire wall. Thus, it turns out that the upper and lower bars reach half of the wall of the Heikhal, and so they allude to the possibility of dividing the Heikhal into two parts, an inner part and an outer part.

 

            Reflecting the second and more generally accepted aspect of the Mishkan, the middle bar extends across the entire wall, thus teaching that the Heikhal in its very essence is one, and that the two aspects coexist, one alongside the other, and they are alluded to by the various bars.

 

            To complete his discussion, R. Fisher writes:

 

On the face of it, our words are puzzling, for we have mentioned the story of Elisha, and there mention is made of four vessels, whereas here there are only three. Where is the bed? In fact, however, there is no difficulty, for just as the ark has the form of a chair, so too it has the form of a bed. This is stated explicitly in the verse (II Melakhim 11:2): "But Yehosheva… took Yoash… and put him and his nurse in the bed chamber." And Rashi explains: In the upper story of the Holy of Holies. And it is called the bed chamber because of (Shir Ha-shirim 1:12): ‘That lies between my breasts.’" That is to say, there are two aspects of the resting of the Shekhina on the keruvim: one aspect, like a king sitting on his throne, and about this it frequently says in Scripture: "that sits on the keruvim"; and a higher and more elevated aspect, that the ark is like a bed, as it is written: "that lies between my breasts."

He who understands will understand that these two aspects parallel the two aforementioned aspects of the ark and the kaporet, whether the ark is primary and the kaporet secondary, or vice versa, that the kaporet and the keruvim are primary and the ark is secondary. Now we find in the midrashim of Chazal two types of analogy. In one, the Holy One, blessed be He, is a groom, as it were, and the people of Israel the bride. And the canopy is the Temple, as the paytan describes at length in the kinnot of Tisha Be-Av. In the second, the Torah is the bride and Israel is the groom. As our Rabbis have said in Midrash Rabba at the beginning of Teruma: "This may be likened to a king who had a single daughter… So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Israel: I have given you the Torah. To part from it, I am unable to do… Wherever you go, make one chamber for Me that I may dwell in it." These are the two aforementioned aspects.

 

Based on the verses relating to Elisha, R. Fisher suggests that the vessel that parallels the bed is the ark itself, which serves both as a chair and as a bed. According to this understanding, we can say as follows:

 

·           If the ark is primary and the kaporet is secondary to it, this accords with the understanding of the ark as a royal chair, the ark of the God of hosts that sits upon the keruvim.

·           If the kaporet is primary and the ark serves it, this accords with the understanding of the ark as a bed, "that lies between my breasts" in the meeting that takes place from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim.

 

The two midrashim that are cited at the end continue the two aspects mentioned above. The midrash which describes God as a groom and the Mikdash as a bridal canopy is connected to the view which sees the ark as a throne and the primary vessel. This is directly connected to the understanding of the Mikdash in its entirety as a place of royalty. The midrash which describes the Torah as a bride and Israel as a groom relates to the view which sees the kaporet as primary, and therefore the highest point from this perspective is the Holy of Holies as a chamber of intimacy in which the Shekhina rests between the poles, and it reveals itself from above the kaporet from between the two keruvim.

 

According to this, we have here two complementary aspects:

 

1)      The ark as royal throne, and thus the Holy of Holies and the Mikdash as a whole is a royal palace.

2)      The ark as a bed, the primary revelation taking place above the kaporet from between the two keruvim.

 

According to this, there is no room to talk about which part is more elevated than the other, for this depends on the perspective from which we examine the matter. On the side of intimacy, the kaporet is higher, whereas on the side of kingdom, the ark is higher, the other vessel serving it.[3]

 

To summarize, beyond the question with which we dealt at the beginning – whether the ark and the kaporet constitute a single vessel, two vessels, or two vessels which are one – when we examined the relationship between the two vessels, the ark on the one hand and the kaporet on the other, we related to the following points:

 

1)     The ark and the tablets resting in it as representing the Written Law and the Divine word from between the two keruvim as representing the Oral Law.

2)     The ark as a footstool and the kaporet and the keruvim as a throne.

3)     The ark as the Torah and the kaporet and the keruvim as revelation.

4)     The ark as testimony and the kaporet and the keruvim as a meeting place.

5)     The ark as a royal throne and the kaporet and the keruvim as a bed which expresses the intimate connection between God and the people of Israel.

 

These are different aspects of the two vessels which complement each other. Each understanding creates an entity comprised of two vessels which constitute a single aggregate.

 

In our next shiur, we shall address the relationship between the kaporet and the keruvim and the essence of the keruvim.

 

 

(Translated by David Strauss)



[1] R. Shlomo Fisher, Beit Yishai, no. 47, "Ma'amar ha-Mo'ach ve-ha-Lev."

[2] In a future shiur, we shall deal with the incense altar which by way of the barrier created by the cloud of incense makes it possible to enter further inward, and it is therefore located directly opposite the ark.

[3] In a previous year, we dealt at length with the proofs and sources which describe the ark, the kaporet and the keruvim, the Holy of Holies, and by extension the entire Mikdash, as the site of God's kingdom and as the site of God's intimate encounter with man.